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For the past three weeks, I’ve been discussing two popular paytable games – Mississippi Stud Poker and Let It Ride. But the first proprietary table game is generally recognized as Caribbean Stud Poker.

Keeping in perfect form, Caribbean Stud has a back story that is perfect for Las Vegas. No one is 100 percent sure who invented it. Apparently multiple people claim to be the inventor and there doesn’t seem to be a complete consensus as to who it really is.

The good news is that it really doesn’t matter for the player.

Caribbean Stud is a poker-style game where the player’s hand goes head to head against the dealer’s hand. To begin play, the player makes an ante wager and is dealt five cards. The dealer is also dealt five cards, but one of them is face up while the others are face down.

The player reviews his hand and then either folds, forfeiting his ante, or makes a play wager equal to two times his ante. Once all players have acted, the dealer reveals his hand and settles all wagers.

If the Dealer’s hand is not at least Ace-King high, then his hand is deemed as not qualifying. In this case, the play wager pushes and the ante pays even money. If the Dealer’s hand qualifies and the player’s hand outranks it, the player wins even money on the ante and the play wager is paid per a paytable. The most common being the following:

Hand               Play Wager Pays

Royal Flush                          100

Straight Flush                         50

Four of a Kind                         20

Full House                                7

Flush                                       5

Straight                                    4

Three of a Kind                          3

Two Pair                                    2

One Pair or Less                        1

That’s the game in a nutshell. The strategy is rather simple as well. As is often the case, we use the dealer’s qualifying hand to get an idea of what our strategy should be. If the player has a pair or better, he makes the play wager. If the player has less than a dealer qualifying hand, he folds.

Then there is that little extra we get from knowing the dealer upcard. If the player has an Ace-King high hand that also contains a dealer upcard, he should make the play wager. About 2 percent of your hands will be Ace-King high, so we’re talking about less than 1 percent of the hands will be impacted by this appendage of a strategy.

Then we have the exception to the appendage. If you have Ace-King-Queen-Jack you play it no matter what. These hands make up 0.2 percent of our hands, so, again, not a huge impact.

Caribbean Stud Poker has a 97.3 percent payback which puts it competitive with many other table games. It is a relatively simple to play and understand game with a relatively easy strategy to play.

As popular as it has been, it never quite caught on as fully as Three Card Poker or Ultimate Texas Hold’em. f you look at the mechanics of the game, I think you’ll be able to see the flaws of this early game relative to its later counterparts. I call it a flaw because I think it something that the player sees as undesirable, even if at the end of the day, the payback is in the same range as other table games.

The first negative is the need to make a 2x wager to stay in the game. If you look at the game, you realize that the dealer has no advantage in terms of making a hand. The fact that the dealer shows one card is actually a minor disadvantage for the house.

So, forcing the player to make a 2x wager helps even the playing field a bit. As I’ve discussed in past week, a mandatory wager works against the player. If this were an optional wager where the player was allowed to make a wager that was 2x the ante, that would be to the player’s advantage.

The really big issue is the fact that if the dealer doesn’t qualify, it is this play wager that pushes. Not only does this mean the player risked three units to win only one, it also means that the wager that has the opportunity to be paid odds doesn’t get them.

So, if you’re dealt Four Aces and the dealer turns over a bad hand, you’ll win one unit. If he manages to have a low pair (obviously, he can’t have Ace-King if you have all four Aces), then you’ll win 41 units. At a $5 table, that’s a $200 difference and that’s not nothing.

I think if Caribbean Stud were to be introduced today, it would struggle mightily. However, it was created when there was nothing to compare it to and it was the first time that players could play a poker-style game against the house.

Given that the game has been around for 30 years or so, it would be hard for me to declare the game anything but a success. The notion of a design flaw has to be taken in context of the time frame in which the game was created and popularized.

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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